In the dark wood of midlife, we’re reminded that footprints wear. In his 1997 University of Washington Commencement Address, former Sen. Bill Bradley recommended that new grads read Tolstoy’s “The Death of Ivan Illych.” The novella underscores that one day we’ll ask, as Ivan did on his deathbed, “Can it be that I have not lived as one ought?”
That question won’t crowd Carl Gipson’s mind, an Everett institution who has lived a life of dignity and service. The question is how we exhibit the values and qualities of leadership of someone like Carl Gipson.
Gipson, who celebrated his 90th birthday Saturday, was Everett’s first African-American city council member. His life tracks the history of the mid-20th century West, the great black migration from the American South, and the life of a mill town that took its time to warm to a family of color.
The namesake of Everett’s Senior Center, Gipson’s life is vividly recounted in a new HistoryLink essay by John Caldbick. Gipson’s mixed-race grandfather, Doc, was born into slavery but thrived as a farmer in Arkansas, where Gipson was born and raised. (Shake Carl Gipson’s hand, and you’re one handshake removed from America’s original sin.) After graduating from Little Rock’s all-black Dunbar High School in 1942, Gipson married his high school sweetheart, Jodie Mae Waugh, and ended up as a welder at the Kaiser Shipyard in Richmond, Calif. And then, contingencies of the unforeseen: a compelled induction into the Navy and an assignment to the naval air station at Oak Harbor.
It was difficult for a black couple to find a home in Mount Vernon or Anacortes, Gipson said. After the war, the Gipsons settled in Everett (home to five or six black families total) but the challenges continued. There was blowback to their purchase of a house in the all-white north end in 1954, and even Gipson’s position as a shop foreman at a car dealership. He was refused membership at the Everett Elks Club in 1976.
Gipson never yielded. He went into business, opened several gas stations and a tavern, and in 1971 was elbowed by Mayor Bob Anderson to run for city council.
Gipson was elected and served for 24 years. He and Jodie raised their three children here, with son Ron replacing his father on the council in 1995. His political legacy, as Caldbick recounts, includes advancing programs for the poor and the elderly and paving the way for Naval Station Everett.
Unlike most, Gipson’s footprints don’t seem to wear. They make a permanent impression.